Friday, 6 June 2014

Morbid Education

Well today took a strange twist.  Slightly gruesome (so don't read if you're squeamish), but fascinating nonetheless.

It started typically and not-at-all-morbidly with the boys peering into our butterfly habitat to see if the last remaining butterfly had emerged from his chrysalis.  It hadn't.  We watched for quite some time, imagining we could see little wiggles and skin splitting, but in the end decided that despite the encouraging shouts of "Come on Chris, you can do it!", we needed to let the other butterflies free as they had emerged a couple of days previously, and we hated seeing them trapped (plus it was a lovely day outside, perfect to release them). The four butterflies were released, and Chris-the-chrysalis carried back indoors.  Of course, the moment we turned our back, Chris emerged, so he was dutifully released several hours later after his wings had unfurled and dried enough for him to fly away!

The lovely sunny weather was too nice to avoid, so I was pottering about the garden doing a few tidy-up jobs (not too many though: overly manicured gardens are not welcoming to wildlife).  Knowing that the blue tit nest box was now uninhabited (except for poor Runty's little body), I decided to carefully clear it out.  I was trying to do it quietly, in case the boys were upset, but Youngest saw what I was dong and asked if he could see "dead Runty".  I was a bit surprised but agreed, and out he came to have a look, calling his brothers who also came and joined us.  They were fascinated.  They asked lots of questions and I was careful to be matter-of-fact about it all, despite feeling a bit sad too.  Eldest was probably the least inclined to join in, but they all had a good look - first at Runty himself: we looked at the construction of his wing, and Youngest wanted to see Runty's 'poohole' (the nest-box poo-sacs had been a source of great amusement) and then the little maggot that crawled out of Runty's body.

By this time I had managed to carefully retrieve the actual nest.  We were fascinated to compare Runty's body with the size of the nest and consider that he was squished into it with six bigger siblings before they fledged.  I was also intrigued by the grit that we found at the bottom of the nest but so far have not found out what it was or why it was there.

As I had lifted the nest out, I found a tiny egg underneath.  It had obviously been dislodged from the nest at some point, and was either never brooded or just not viable - but that was probably just as well as we think this was the nest of first time parents, given some of their odd behaviour (such as poking a chick in the eye instead of beak) - and given that they only successfully reared six chicks (blue tits can have up to sixteen eggs at a time, more usually 8-12), had there been more chicks, there would have been less food to go around, and possibly even less survivors.  Anyway, it was fascinating to compare the tiny egg with the size of Runty, acknowledging that he was too small for his age to fledge, but even so, the growth from egg to Runty size in less that 3 weeks was phenomenal.

Once we had finished our inspection,we  moved the nest to somewhere for safekeeping, and were simultaneously amazed and grossed out by the maggots that fell from the bottom of the nest!

OK, that's all the gruesomeness over!

What a great opportunity to get that close to nature!  Even in death, Runty was beautiful and fascinating... I have to admit it was not something I particularly enjoyed doing, but it was a privilege, and very interesting. Still, by now I was in the mood to get out and enjoy some nature of the more alive variety - so we went with some friends to our local park, to feed the birds and spot some babies, and take some more pleasant photos...

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